Reach out to help raise standards

July 20, 2007

Education Secretary Ed Balls explains why every university should sponsor an academy.

Academies have been at the forefront of attempts to improve standards in some of the most deprived areas. By opening up new opportunities for partnerships and injecting new leadership and innovation, they are sparking a radical transformation in weak and failing schools across the country.

Research shows that exam results in these institutions are improving at a substantially faster rate than comparable schools and the national average. Indeed, the proportion of pupils in academies getting five or more good GCSE passes has doubled compared with results their predecessors gained five years previously. This success in turning around schools in disadvantaged communities where circumstances are challenging and aspirations are low is the reason why we are committed to expanding the programme.

I want to speed up the progress and give even more scope for schools to benefit from the leadership, innovation and energy that the academy model brings.

Sponsorship has been a defining feature of the programme. Alongside the capital injection, sponsors bring with them important leadership, innovation and knowledge.

Of course, the funding - which was set at £2 million or 10 per cent of capital costs - can be extremely important to counter the impact of deprivation and disadvantage and to promote educational work in the community.

But I believe the greater benefit comes from the invaluable contribution in kind that sponsors make through their skills, expertise and passion. It is these qualities - rather than hard cash - that drives sustained improvement in standards in these schools.

The test of whether an organisation can be a potential sponsor should not be its bank balance, therefore, but whether it can demonstrate leadership, innovation and a commitment to collaboration and acting in the public interest.

We must cast our net as widely as possible to get the right organisations involved in academies, and I do not want the financial aspects of sponsorship to deter high-performing public institutions from contributing fully.

That's why we are now abolishing the requirement for universities and high performing schools and colleges to contribute £2 million before they can sponsor an academy.

The new arrangement opens the door for more of them to get more involved. It's true that many universities are already engaged with academies. But I now want every university to actively consider sponsoring one. This greater role for universities - coupled with the significant interest we continue to get from private organisations, charities and individual philanthropists - will help us to accelerate towards our initial goal of 400 academies.

Funding agreements have now been agreed in principle for the following new ventures - Brunel Academy in Bristol, Shirelands Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, George Salter Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, John Cabot Academy in Gloucestershire and St Michael and All Angels Academy in Southwark.

And following our decision to withdraw the requirement for high-performing universities, colleges and schools to provide sponsorship funding, nine institutions have already expressed their interest in academies: Imperial College London; University College London; Queen Mary, University of London; the universities of Central England and the West of England; and Manchester, Aston, Wolverhampton and Kent universities.

The academy will remain at the centre of our plans to raise standards, improve opportunity and boost social mobility. These important changes will help to put them at the heart of their local communities, as well as enabling us to expand the programme, attract the strongest sponsors and accelerate the pace of improvement.

All this will, in turn, allow them to play an even more important role in turning round weak schools, boosting attainment and raising expectations in disadvantaged areas.

Ed Balls is Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

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